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Intrepid Insult: Shuttle Enterprise Damaged, Disrespected & Endangered

In July of this year AmericaSpace posted the following article expressing concerns about the temporary structure that Enterprise was housed in. The author, who was the curator for the Gen. Thomas P. Stafford Air and Space Museum, was accused of bias and the article’s integrity was called into question. AmericaSpace regrets to report that Hurricane Sandy has shown that Mr. Soulliere’s concerns were well-founded. Therefore we are returning his work to our lineup with our sincerest apologies.

Enterprise was unveiled during the Intrepid Sea Air and Space Museum’s “SpaceFest” this past week. However, is this historical artifact properly housed and maintained? Photo Credit: Jeffrey J. Soulliere

The test article for the space shuttle, Enterprise, has a new home that is a far cry from her old home at the Smithsonian’s Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Washington D.C. Enterprise’s new home is, for all intents-and-purposes a balloon. An inflatable structure that while much-lauded by the public relations firm hired to promote the event – leaves much to be desired.    

The top image was taken by Soulliere on one of the days of the Space Fest, the bottom image was posted by Harmon Images on Twitter and shows the state that the test article is in – just three months later. Photo Credit: Jeffrey J. Soulliere (top) – Harmon Images (bottom)

Lightning protection is something that every home has but apparently something that the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum neglected to provide the shuttle that was used to test the orbiter’s flight characteristics with. The initial response to inquiries regarding this situation appeared to have left the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum’s representatives at a loss. Initially the response was that the inflatable structure was covered in a “lightning prohibitive coating” and that the flight deck was grounded. These representatives quickly returned and stated that the flight deck where Enterprise resided was actually not grounded – but the adjacent Intrepid was. They also adjusted their statement about Enterprise’s new inflatable home that it was actually made from a “non-conductive coating.”

When the grounding question was asked – it appeared to have stumped Enterprise’s Curator Jessica Williams who stated that she had “no clue” as to the grounding status of the structure that is used to protect this national treasure. This lack of fore thought was underscored as a storm rolled into the area. Despite the statements declaring the sturdy nature of this structure – it was damaged during this storm, highlighting the concerns raised about the structure. This latest incident underscores a pattern as to how little consideration appears to have been paid to Enterprise and its new home.

On the day that Enterprise arrived in NYC its wing was dragged along a wooden rail that caused a portion of the wingtip to be damaged (this damage has since been professionally repaired). As if to add insult-to injury-according to a report in the New York Times (among other media outlets) stated the shuttle is near to a strip club. Unlike the new homes that have been selected for her sisters Atlantis (the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex) Discovery (currently at home in Enterprise’s old roost at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center) and Endeavour (the California Learning Center in Los Angeles, Calif.) Enterprise was not given the benefit of having a solid structure in place before she was relocated.

The full extent of the damage to shuttle Enterprise has yet to be determined. Photo Credit: Jeffrey J. Soulliere

Although the inflatable structure is supposed to be temporary, the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space didn’t know when they will have the funds needed to build the permanent structure. It was stated that all total the current pavilion that houses Enterprise cost $3.5 million. For comparison, the facility that the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is currently building for Atlantis cost $100 million.

Click here to read the Huffigton Post’s article about the damage inflicted on Enterprise.

Click here to read concerns raised by aerospace reporter at Examiner.com.

Click here to read an editorial on Enterprise’s plight at the Houston Chronicle.

About the author: Jeffrey J. Soulliere has directly acquired, researched and curated more than 800 NASA space flight artifacts for public museum display in the last 15 years.

7 comments to Intrepid Insult: Shuttle Enterprise Damaged, Disrespected & Endangered

  • Mark Usciak

    Hmmmmm, looks like Mr. Soulliere’s concerns were well founded after all. I wonder what steps will be taken to see that this incident is not repeated until a permanent home can be built for the Enterprise. I hope AmericaSpace stays on top of all the developments concerning her future……thanks!

  • Karol

    I don’t really want to drop a grenade down anyone’s shorts, but was there ever a logical reason given why the Johnson Space Center was passed over in the decision-making process? It just seems that the JSC had much more to do with the Shuttle than did New York, and if a New Yorker wanted to see an orbiter, the National Air and Space Museum is a short trip by high-speed rail (and you also get the chance to see other great space exploration artifacts). Those of us in the hinterland who also love NASA, the Shuttle program, and space exploration would have really appreciated a shuttle orbiter in the neighborhood. The John Glenn NASA facility, or Wright-Patterson AFB Museum, also in Ohio, would have given us in the Pittsburgh, Detroit, Chicago region an opportunity to get up close and personal with a shuttle. In any event, ENTERPRISE absolutely MUST be accorded every means to protect it for future generations. If such protection can be provided on the INTREPID, then perhaps the decision to place it there will prove to have been a wise one (Near a strip bar? Really!?). If there is a possibility of damage being done to the ENTERPRISE, the possibility of which Sandy has brought to the fore, then perhaps the decision should be re-visited.

  • Bruce

    Everyday I drive past a purpose built facility for a shuttle, the Charles Simonyi Space Gallery at the Seattle Museum of Flight, which will house the Shuttle Full Size Trainer. I visualize what could have been a marvelous place for Enterprise to have been displayed, instead it resides under a glorified circus tent and has been damaged twice under the Intrepid Museum’s care. Not only that, but I am sure that the USAF Museum in Dayton has the hanger space available for Enterprise and would have been a ideal place for it to be displayed. Houston and JSC – no doubt at all that Enterprise should be there rather than New York.
    Why was it placed in New York? NASA’s answer – where more people could see it. My answer – political payback for New York politicians.

  • Heath

    Backed into a pier and exposed to a hurricane. I think two strikes is enough. I’m sure Intrepid is a fine institution with competent, well-meaning staff, but they obviously are not equipped to conserve and preserve a shuttle for future generations. The Smithsonian has proved they are up to the task and I believe the KSCVC will be excellent stewards of ATLANTIS. I hope the California Science Center is taking heed of this story and providing ENDEAVOUR with safe housing and excellent care. From the looks of the temporary building where ENDEAVOUR is being displayed, however, I cringe thinking what might happen should an earthquake hit… And what of it’s planned permanent vertical display?

  • Paul Bachmann

    What a horrible thing to happen. The shuttle is a precious thing that must be guarded at all times. To simply make a mistake like this is a travesty. I cant believe that such care wasn’t given to a piece of American history! They were lucky enough to house one when MANY cites were turned down, including Chicago!This really upsets me!!!

  • Andrew Bingham

    Although the structure where Endeavour is being housed may look flimsy, it is a steel framed building that must meet California earthquake codes. In my opinion, the fact that walls look “simple” rather then being finished with lots of drywall, etc, actually makes the Endeavour safer by reducing the number of things that could fall on it inside the building in the event of an earthquake.

    Also, the California Science Center engineered a mounting structure for the shuttle itself to sit on that allows it to “float” during a seismic event, so stresses are not transferred to the airframe in a way that could damage the shuttle – check out the “Earthquake Protection” tab of this inforgraphic – http://graphics.latimes.com/storyboard-la-me-shuttle-open/

    Endeavour’s move through downtown LA required months of planning and weeks of careful work by a large team to make sure that she made it safely (and without having her wingtips run into anything).

    I wish Enterprise has received the same care and thought that the California Science Center has given to their shuttle.